`Mind-boggling’ state budget cuts devastating Kansans with disabilities, advocates say

? Kansans with disabilities on Friday pleaded with lawmakers to restore cuts in Medicaid funding that have ended some services and threaten to eliminate more.

“Any more cuts, and I may have to go into a nursing home,” said Terry Walter of Topeka. Walter has diabetes, congestive heart disease and uses a wheelchair.

Daniel Perez of Wichita talks about care services his son, Daniel, 18, who is autistic, is losing under recent Medicaid budget cuts. The Big Tent Coalition called for restoration of the 10 percent budget cut. At a news conference Friday in the Capitol, several people said the lost services will result in more people being placed in more expensive nursing home care.

Because of dwindling tax losses, Gov. Mark Parkinson cut Medicaid by 10 percent or $22.7 million. The cut has been especially harmful because it means the loss of an additional federal matching funds.

“It’s just mind-boggling that we would cut those services only to force people into institutions which are going to cost taxpayers more dollars,” said Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas.

He said policymakers don’t understand that the cuts “are real and are devastating people’s lives, and without restoring those cuts, it’s only going to get worse.”

At a news conference, several people caring for those with disabilities spoke about the need to restore funding.

Margaret Landry, a caregiver from Lawrence, said that because of the cuts, the 3-year-old boy she takes care of, Max, will be unable to get a new wheelchair when he grows out of the one he is in now.

Daniel Perez of Wichita said the cuts have forced him to lose respite and dental care for his autistic son, Daniel, 18.

And Kathleen Payne of Berryton said the cuts have reduced the wages for the caregiver of her 36-year-old daughter, Robin, who is severely disabled.

Without Robin’s caregiver, Payne said she would not be able to hold down a job and keep her daughter at home.

Key legislators said they hoped to restore the funding for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“We’re extremely sensitive to that situation and the people who are suffering as a result of our need to balance the budget,” said state Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood. “It’s not like we are just cold and hard and uncaring. We will continue to look toward solutions,” he said.

Gov. Mark Parkinson and the Legislature have cut $1 billion from the $6.4 billion state budget because of an historic drop in revenue. The Legislature still faces a $400 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

Parkinson has called for a tax increase to restore the Medicaid cuts and avoid further cuts in other areas. Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said he is open to the idea of a tax increase, but House Republican leaders have been adamantly opposed.